New Year, New Beginnings


Amid the memorable, record-setting event in Ann Arbor, Dave Nonis snuck in a trade with Carolina: The long-rumoured swap of bad contracts involving John Michael Liles and Tim Gleason.

First off, we’ve heard nothing but great things about John-Michael Liles the  person. The way he handled the demotion was in stark contrast to how, say, Tim Connolly appeared to respond to the same situation. Liles, according to Steve Spott, was much like his assistant coach and was quick to take many of the fledgling D on the team under his wing. The Safe School Network is a charity initiative Liles was involved with for his years in Toronto, and his exit tweet was unsurprisingly classy.

As a player I liked Liles and would have kept him around myself, but this has to be goodwill move in part, which is something this player deserves. The Hurricanes will get the puck mover they’re looking for and will save some money in the exchange as the structure of Liles’ deal was front loaded.

Gleason, like Liles, will be the second highest paid defenceman on the LeafsIt’s a shame for him he wasn’t traded here a few days earlier, as the Winter Classic took place in Gleason’s home state.

The Skinny

As JM Liles is another mobile, not particularly physical, left shot defenceman (Gleason is also left handed, but is comfortable on the right side), Randy Carlyle isn’t going to play him in addition to Rielly and Gardiner. The leash just wasn’t there for Liles. Carlyle was quick to staple JML to a press box seat after a bad game vs. Detroit. While he  looked good in the lineup the three or four games prior, he hasn’t shown enough to suggest he was anything more than a buyout candidate at this point. He also is not getting any younger at 33, whereas Gleason is 30.

The harsh but realistic take based on the current situation is that this transaction is a swap of a couple of buyout candidates after the season. This is a change of scenery opportunity for both. The contracts are essentially a wash, with just 25,000 more on Gleason’s AAV and the same term remaining (with an expiration at the end of the 2015-16 season). The second year of a potential Gleason buyout, though, is a little bit cheaper:

Tim Gleason Buyout


John Michael Liles Buyout


The more important question: Who has the best chance to play his way back into appreciable role and restore some of their asset value?

When you consider that Gleason is three years younger and seems more likely to play for Carlyle given his player type and the composition of the Leaf defensive roster, could it reasonably be stated Gleason is more likely to have an opportunity to bounce back in Toronto? The contract is  ugly and there’s not much to suggest he’s an upgrade on Paul Ranger, but who is more likely to bounce back in this team under Carlyle? Love it or hate it, the answers seems to be Gleason.


At one time, Gleason was the defenceman the Leafs need; a shutdown guy who put in hard minutes against the best competition, with pretty good underlying numbers. In 2011-12, he started more shifts in the defensive zone than any other Canes defenceman and gave up relatively few shots. The 2011-12 Tim Gleason would complement the Leafs’ defence core nicely and alleviate Phaneuf of some of the toughs.

For a variety of reasons, including a head/ear injury that reportedly threw off his equilibrium and most recently a lower body injury that sidelined him for six games, Gleason has lost some of the mobility to his  game and the numbers, minutes and coach’s trust have slipped. A former American Olympian, once a good shutdown D, slowed by injuries and making around $4 million…

In terms of positives, Gleason has played 17, 14, 16, 17 and 16 minutes in his last five games while throwing 18 hits. He averages a minute and a half minute a game on the penalty kill, where the Leafs could maybe use his skillset – blocking shots, clearing the crease, box outs – now that Mark Fraser has fallen out of favour.

Former Leafs GM Brian Burke was a Tim Gleason fan, and a few years ago at the Scotiabank President’s Breakfast Burkie told a story about the 2009 World Championship American team involving the Michigan native. Gleason was one of two players, the other being Phil Kessel, who showed up to the flight home on time, sober and pissed about the loss. Burke said that was the moment he knew he wanted Phil Kessel.
[quote_box_center] Burke said his opinion of Kessel changed during the World Championships in Halifax in 2009. Burke was GM of Team USA’s entry, and Kessel had just come off his 36 goal campaign with the Boston Bruins. While training for the event in Maine, Tim Gleason approached Phil Kessel to invite him on an ocean fishing trip with the rest of the team. Kessel explained to Gleason that while he loves to fish, he gets seasick on rough water and would feel awful all day.

Yet Kessel took part on the fishing trip, sucking up seasickness, for the sake of espirit de corps and team building.  Kessel felt obliged towards his teammates regardless of his personal comfort.  Burke remarked that he was impressed by such a team-first attitude from a young guy.

He also touched on Kessel’s maturity.  After getting knocked out early in the tournament, there was a chartered flight for the team to Boston at 6 in the morning.  Only 8 players decided to make that flight, and only two – Kessel and Gleason – showed up sober, well rested and dressed in suits.  Kessel approached Burke, apologized for the team’s unsuccessful run and expressed a sincere distaste for not medaling in the tournament.  It was then, Burke said, that he wanted Phil Kessel to play hockey for him.[/quote_box_center]
I also really enjoy the story of the time Gleason’s Dad made him call Nikolai Kulemin and apologize for breaking his nose in a fight Kulemin wanted no part in.

Gleason will be available for Saturday’s game against the Rangers.